Ford Motor Company is relying on technology that Hollywood has made its own to optimize the ergonomics of its future automobiles. Designers use the same type of motion-capture software used in blockbusters such as "Avatar," "Lord of the Rings" and "Shrek" to design vehicles that are more comfortable and enjoyable to drive.
Hollywood computer animators and video game designers use motion capture technology to make nonhuman characters appear more lifelike. Ford uses the technology to create realistic digital humans that engineers use to test vehicles in the virtual world.
A system called Human Occupant Package Simulator (HOPS) combines motion-capture software with a special test vehicle to measure and evaluate body motion, according to a Ford news release. A human test subject is outfitted with up to 50 motion-capture sensors. The test subject performs a series of movements, such as swinging a leg outside of the vehicle or reaching for the seat belt. The markers record trajectories of the test subject’s movements. The recordings are then loaded into a database to create digital human models.
Ford engineers use the digital human models to evaluate movement using different virtual vehicle design proposals from a small car to a full-size pickup truck. The system also can be reconfigured to represent the driver and the front, second or even third-row passenger compartments.
The HOPS motion-capture technology allows engineers to apply a more scientific approach to understanding how people interact with vehicles.
"Comfort or discomfort is inherently a subjective measure," said Nanxin Wang, Ford technical leader. "For a given vehicle, some people will say it’s comfortable to get in, while others may say just the opposite. The challenge is to find out why people feel that way and how we can change the design to improve the perception.
"Before HOPS, the only way to evaluate a given design was to have people get into a vehicle and tell us how they liked it," Wang added. "This took lots of time and guesswork. Now we can couple this subjective appraisal with objective measurements of their arms, legs and head movements, along with muscular efforts to quantify movement mathematically. Our design teams use the data as a guide for developing a variety of vehicle platforms that provide optimal comfort, regardless of a person’s size or shape."
"Just like in the movies, we hook people up with sensors to understand exactly how they move when they are interacting with their vehicles," said Gary Strumolo, manager, Ford research and engineering. "Once we have all that motion captured, we create virtual humans that we can use to run thousands of tests that help us understand how people of all sizes and shapes interact with all kinds of vehicle designs.” He describes it as an incredibly efficient way of engineering tomorrow’s vehicles."
Source: Ford Motor Co.